Magi Mike's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History

Carved Stone shows Jerusalem is 2000 years old!

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Israeli archaeologists are eagerly promoting the finding of an ancient stone carving once part of an ancient pottery workshop as the oldest known instance of the word “Jerusalem” spelled out in full. Earlier inscriptions, spell Jerusalem as “Yerushalem” or even just “Shalem”, rather than “Yerushalayim” as in modern Hebrew. Even in the Bible, in which “Jerusalem” appears 660 times, it is spelled in the “modern” way only five times, in Jeremiah 26:18; Esther 2:6; 2-Chronicles 25:1; 2-Chronicles 32:9; 2-Chronicles 25:1, all of them late additions. So the new find must, one imagines, be an earth shattering discovery perhaps showing Jerusalem (spelled as we know it) harks back to some time in the Jewish book of foundation myths showing perhaps that they were not mythological at all, but real history–Moses or David and Solomon, eh?

Not a bit. The carving, written in Aramaic, says, “Hananiah son of Dodalos from Jerusalem”, dates only to the first century AD, and so is only about 2,000 years old. That is from Roman times when no one doubts that Jerusalem actually did exist! Not surprisingly this spelling occurs only in one other instance, also from Roman times, on a coin from the Jewish War (66 to 70 AD).

Written by mikemagee

11 October, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Y Garfinkel—Latest Biblicist Scholar “Proves” King David

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The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Its roots can be found in W F Albright’s assault on the Wellhausen School in the early 20th century, an assault that biased archaeological, biblical and historical research for decades. This trend—in different guises—has resurfaced sporadically in recent years, with archaeology serving as a weapon to quell progress in critical scholarship. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.

I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin

Khirbet Qeiyafa

During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, professor Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and colleagues, uncovered assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. Three large rooms were revealed that Garfinkel says were cultic shrines corresponding in their architecture and finds to the time of King David. He adds that this discovery is extraordinary for it is the first time that shrines from the time of the first biblical kings—Saul, David and Solomon—have been uncovered, and shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. These shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years.

The discovery is indeed extraordinary, about as extraordinary as finding the Bat Cave of Batman and Robin under the streets of New York City, which was, of course, called Gotham City in those days, as everyone knows from the popular myth! Saul, Solomon and Solomon’s famous temple are all myths with not a single piece of material evidence for any of them, and king David, the father of the mythical Solomon, has the equivocal testimony of an highly contentious piece of a broken inscription. So all three of the earliest kings of Judah are as real as king Arthur, Dr Faustus and William Tell… they are not!

The expedition to Khirbet Qeiyafa has excavated the site for six weeks each summer since 2007, with co-director Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Located approximately 30km southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Elah, Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city of the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath. The city, which was dated by 10 radiometric measurements (14C) done at Oxford University on burned olive pits, existed for a short period of time between ca. 1020 to 980 BCE, and was violently destroyed. The revolutionary results of five years of work are presented in a new book, Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah, published by Yedioth Ahronoth.

The architecture found at Khirbet Qeiyafa at this date is quite refined, and is interpreted by Garfinkel as evidence of royal activities, and therefore of state formation. An elite social level and urbanism existed in the region eleventh century Judah. Garfinckel seems convinced that it strengthens the historicity of the Jewish scriptures, and that their description of the architecture of the palace and Temple of Solomon is authentic:

This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong.

The Jewish bible relates how the people of Israel had a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East, being monotheistic and aniconic—free of human and animal figures—and having an aversion to pork. Garfinkel continued;

Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found.

No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.

It suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult from that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.

However, the Hebrew Univerity press release is clear that no one is sure when these aniconic and monotheistic practices began, during the Israelite and Judahite monarchies (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras. The claim that images of humans or animals were absent in the three shrines is, on the face of it, evidence that worshipers here differed from the Canaanites and the Philistines, who made images of their gods.

The three rooms, part of larger building complexes, are supposed to have been separate shrines. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. Garfinkel supposes that because the bible speaks of the portable ark being stored in private houses (2 Samuel 6) that it was worshiped in private houses. Yet there was only one such ark at a time, so it could hardly have been worshiped in three separate rooms. Indeed, three separate shrines in one larger building suggests polytheism, the different rooms being devoted to different objects of worship. Indeed cult objects found include five standing stones (Masseboth), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. Canaanites commonly worshiped masseboth, stones, and even the bible suggests the Judahites and Israelites did, though they were not supposed to according to Moses. It is deeply entrenched. Jews today still worship stones!

Two portable shrines or “shrine models” were found, one made of pottery, c 20cm high, and the other, 35 cm high, of stone. These are boxes shaped like miniature temples, which could be closed. The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements—seven groups of roof beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the “triglyph”, is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone. The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of door or window is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. It was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.

Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5;31-33) and in the description of a temple in Ezekiel 41:6. These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia.

For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.

Now, the stone model helps us to understand these obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7:1-6. The text uses the term “Slaoth”, which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as triple recessed doorway.

Qeiyafa archaeological site, disorganized and overpopulated!

Most of these injudicious claims of Garfunkel’s have been severely criticized as biblicist nonsense, even by biblicists! I Finkelstein and A Fantalkin have slated the interpretations and the amateurish methodology of the excavation. Thomas Verenna commented on this reporting of Garfinkel’s excesses:

“Will these finds settle the debate over the historical David? Garfinkel would like to think so. ‘Various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong’.”

MSNBC coverage on Qeiyafa

Really? Because you found a couple of regional house shrines in a fortified city? Because you have an ostracon with some writing on it? What hubris this is, when someone can so blatantly claim that certain scholars are wrong because you’ve found common ancient Near Eastern artifacts (which have been misidentified) at a dig in the Near East. if anything this only shows the lengths that certain individuals will go to try to prove their presuppositions. They are willing to fabricate whole cultural contexts that never existed so long as in the end they can say they’ve found the facts behind their biblical truth. It is both tragic and disgusting: tragic because most people will never question the validity of the article or the claims therein, and disgusting because it is permitted to happen.

He has a fuller piece on this nonsense here. And even biblicist, George Athas, is skeptical.

Quack “Scholars” play to the Christian Gallery over Talpiot Tombs and Ossuaries

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Original Sketch Jonah Ossuary

Professor James D Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has inspected by robotic camera an apparently undisturbed first century tomb in Jerusalem. It contains limestone Jewish ossuaries, boxes into which the bones of the dead were placed after their flesh had decayed from them. Greek inscriptions and in some cases images suggested to Tabor that the tombs were Christian. Thus a four line Greek inscription on one ossuary speaks of God “raising up” someone, and a carved image on another ossuary could be a fish with a human stick figure in its mouth, an image evoking the biblical story of Jonah.

Sign of Jonah

The sign of Jonah, as mentioned by Jesus—according to Matthew and Luke but not Mark, the earliest gospel—is interpreted as his resurrection. Jonah images in later Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs pesumed to be symbolizing the Christian resurrection hope. Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art, and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.

This ossuary with the speculative Jonah image has other puzzling engravings, believed to be linked with resurrection. On one side is the tail of a fish disappearing off the edge of the box, as if it is diving into the water, although the lower half is not obscured by any symbolic water but merely because it is obscured by some other object in the tomb! There are more small similar “fish” images around its border on the front facing, and on the other side is the image of a cross like gate or entrance, which Tabor interprets as the notion of entering the “bars” of death, which are mentioned in the Jonah story in the Bible. Tabor remarked:

This Jonah ossuary is most fascinating. It seems to represent a pictorial story with the fish diving under the water on one end, the bars or gates of death, the bones inside, and the image of the great fish spitting out a man representing, based on the words of Jesus, the sign of Jonah—the sign that he would escape the bonds of death.

Jonah's Fish Swam Head Down. Is it a Miracle? Or an Amphora?

Among the approximately 2000 ossuaries that have been recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, only 650 have any inscriptions on them, and none have inscriptions comparable to those on ossuaries 5 and 6. Less than a dozen ossuaries from the period have epitaphs but, according to Tabor, these inscribed messages usually have to do with warnings not to disturb the bones of the dead. In contrast, though the epitaph’s full translation is uncertain, he concludes:

This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

The first three lines are clear, but the last line, consisting of three Greek letters, is not clear. It could be:

  • O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up
  • The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place
  • The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead]

Beyond the possible Christian connection, Tabor noted that the tomb’s assemblage of ossuaries stands out as clearly extraordinary in the context of other previously explored tombs in Jerusalem:

Everything in this tomb seems unusual when contrasted with what one normally finds inscribed on ossuaries in Jewish tombs of this period. Of the seven ossuaries remaining in the tomb, four of them have unusual features.

There are engravings on five of the seven ossuaries inspected:

  1. an enigmatic symbol on ossuary 2, possibly stylized Greek or Hebrew letters reading Yod Heh Vav Heh or YHWH, though interpretation is speculative
  2. an inscription reading MARA in Greek letters on ossuary 3, which Tabor translates as the Aramaic feminine form of “Lord” or “Master”, in other words Lady or Mistress
  3. an indecipherable word in Greek letters on ossuary 4, possibly a name beginning with JO…
  4. a four line Greek inscription on ossuary 5
  5. a series of images on ossuary 6, including the large image of a fish with the stickman supposedly emerging from its mouth.

Talpiot Tombs

The tomb itself is dated before 70 AD, on the assumption that ossuary use in Jerusalem ceased then when Romans destroyed the city. Accordingly, if the markings are Christian, they are the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found by several centuries. They must have been made by some of Jesus’s earliest followers, within decades of his death and predate the writing of the gospels. Tabor said:

If anyone had claimed to find either a statement about resurrection or a Jonah image in a Jewish tomb of this period, I would have said impossible, until now. Our team was in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, but the evidence was clearly before our eyes, causing us to revise our prior assumptions.

The discovery is published in The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity, which Tabor has co-authored with the sensationalist film maker for The Discovery Channel, and now somehow, professor of religion, Simcha Jacobovici, as Tabor’s gushing enthusiasm shows. Simcha Jacobovici has made several pseudo-historical pot-boiling books and films before, including the Jesus Family Tomb, but none of them pass muster. He has been compared with Dan Brown, author of the novel, The Da Vinci Code, the significant difference being that Brown claims only to be a novelist. That Jacobovici approves of the comparison must mean something, but Jacobovoci seems to have fooled people who should know better He is the “Naked Archaeologist”, a self publicist and opportunist, not a scholar.

Most proper scholars are skeptical of any Christian archaeological remains from so early a period. Moreover, this tomb is close to the tomb that Jacobovici sold to those willing to buy it as “The Jesus Family Tomb”. It too had in it inscribed ossuaries that had some of the names of Jesus’s associates or family, including one that reads “Jesus, son of Joseph”. These were common names at the time.

The tomb containing the new discoveries is a modest sized, carefully carved rock cut cave tomb typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 BC until 70 AD. It was revealed in 1981 by builders, and is now several meters under the basement level of a modern condominium building in East Talpiot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem less than two miles south of the Old City. Archaeologists at the time were able to examine it and its ossuaries only briefly, to take preliminary photographs, and to remove one pot and an ossuary, before they were forced to leave by Orthodox religious groups who oppose excavation of Jewish tombs. Tabor points out:

Context is everything in archaeology. These two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, were part of an ancient estate, likely related to a rich family of the time. We chose to investigate this tomb because of its proximity to the so-called Jesus tomb, not knowing if it would yield anything unusual.

The ossuary taken, that of a child, is now in the Israel State Collection. It is decorated but has no inscriptions. The archaeologists mention two Greek names but did not notice either the newly discovered Greek inscription or the Jonah image before they had to leave. The tomb was re-sealed and buried beneath the condominium complex on what is now Don Gruner Street in East Talpiot.

The adjacent “Jesus tomb”, was uncovered by the same construction company in 1980, just one year earlier. It was thoroughly excavated and its contents removed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. This tomb’s controversial ossuaries with their cluster of names, seemingly gospel, are now part of the Israel State Collection and have been on display in various venues, including the Israel Museum.

In 2009 and 2010, Tabor and Rami Arav, professor of archaeology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, working together with Jacobovici, obtained a license to excavate the current tomb from the Israel Antiquities Authority under the academic sponsorship of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Because of its physical location under a modern building, making direct access nearly impossible, along with the threat of Orthodox Jewish groups that would protest any such excavation, Tabor’s team determined to employ a minimally invasive procedure in examining the tomb.

Jacobovici’s team at the Toronto based Associated Producers used a robotic arm with high definition cameras, donated by General Electric. The robotic arm and a second “snake” camera were inserted through two drill holes in the basement floor of the building above the tomb. The team reached the ossuaries and photographed them on all sides, revealing the inscriptions. The Discovery Channel/Vision Television/Associated Producers provided funding.

More Likely Interpretations

Fish or Foul, an Amphora

Needless to say, the speculation that these objects and their interpretation, even if it is correct, pertains to Christianity just a few decades after the supposed crucifixion is rejected by most rational scholars. Mark Goodacre blogs critically about these Discovery Channel sideshows. Another critical website is Tom Verenna’s. The possibility of such a connexion is more likely if the crucifixion was earlier, say around 21 AD, and it is even more likely if the allusions reflect the beliefs extant among Essenes. All this is discussed at the Askwhy! website.

Model Fish? Judaea

Secrets of the Ramet Rahel Palace and Garden

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A research abstract at tells us:

Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramet Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden with an advanced irrigation system.

Ramet Rahal Persian Palace

The rest of the review shows that this summary statement is wrong. The garden and palace are not from the time of the “biblical kingdom of Judah”, which ended with the Babylonian conquest in 586 BC, but from the Persian period which must have been at least fifty years later, and was more likely 200 years later in the fourth century BC.

The evidence is provided by the nature of the irrigation systems which were like those the Persians were noted for constructing, the exotic plants in the garden which came from Persia and further east, and C14 dating will have left little room for doubt. When it comes to the bible, there is no such thing as lying.

The truth is that the biblical kingdom of Judah is largely fictitious. Little of its scriptural history has ever been found confirmed in the ground, and much of what has, like the claim here, is false or misreported. The evidence as opposed to the myth suggests the kingdom of Judah existed just 150 years—from about 730 BC to 586 BC—as a rump of the previous kingdom of Israel, and a puppet of the Assyrians. It was left poor and uncolonized by the Babylonians, and was not resettled as soon as the Persians took control, as the myth makes out, but much later probably in response to a rebellion in the fifth century that required a Persian punitive expedition to Jerusalem. It is after this that the palace and garden described in this work flourished.

How Darius II founded Judaism is explained in detail at the main askwhy website.

Written by mikemagee

17 February, 2012 at 1:09 am

Seal Suggests Jewish Temple Business Transacted in Aramaic not Hebrew

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Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University has found near the Western Wall under Jerusalem’s Old City a rare clay seal that they say came from the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago—between the first century BC and 70 AD—because it bears the inscription “pure for God”. The upper terminus is set by the closing of the temple by the Romans after the Jewish War.

Aramaic Temple Seal from the time of Christ

This is the first such seal found dating from this period. Very many seals from apparently earlier periods are known, but regrettably so many of them are fakes, no one can be sure that any are genuine unless they have been found in situ. As it is, Reich, the co-director of the excavation opines that seal indicates temple ritual, signifying that Temple officials had approved some thing for temple use, like oil or a sacrificial beast. Offerings to God—for the benefit of the priests, in fact—had to be pure and perfect.

Curiously, though, the inscribed words are written in Aramaic and not Hebrew, as one might expect for ritual relics associated with the Jewish religion for which Hebrew was and still is the sacred language. The part of the Jewish Talmuds called the Mishna mentions the use of seals as tokens by diaspora pilgrims, who would have predominantly spoken Greek or Aramaic. However, it would have been the local people, Palestinian Jews, who gave animals, it being far more convenient for pilgrims from afar, maybe overseas, to give money. Presumably a priest was only capable of judging whether an animal was suitable for sacrifice, and logically they would have had seals inscribed in Hebrew. It suggests that Hebrew was only nominally the sacred language, Aramaic serving in practice.

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30 December, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Neoconservative Atheist Christopher Hitchens on Zionism

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Naughty boy British establishment Trotskyist turned celebrity American establishment neoconservative, and professional atheist, Christopher Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 of cancer of the œsophagus. A brilliant wordsmith and controversialist, Hitchens was a consistent anticommunist whose move to the US led to his abandonment of left wing communism in favour of open Bush/Cheney neoconservatism—a common path for Trotskyists in the USA—but he did seem to remain anti-Zionist throughout:

I am an anti-Zionist. I’m one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians.

One of the advantages of a Marxist and internationalist training is that it exposes one to the early writings of those Jewish cosmopolitans who warned from the first day that Zionism would be a false messiah for the Jews and an injustice to the Arabs. Nothing suggests to me that they were wrong on these crucial points.

And likening the United States leaders to the shabbos goy, the sabbath day gentile for the state of Israel:

The non-Jew who is paid a trifling fee to turn out the lights or turn on the stove, or whatever else is needful to get around the more annoying regulations [for Jews] of the Sabbath. How the old buzzard must cackle when he sees the gentiles actually volunteering a bribe to do the lowly work! And lowly it is, involving the tearing-up of international law and UN resolutions and election promises, and the further dispossession and eviction of a people to whom we gave our word…

Written by mikemagee

22 December, 2011 at 12:55 am

Wailing Wall Built in Roman Times Coins in Foundations Show

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Eli Shukron sits in the Foundations of the Western Wall

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered ancient coins near the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City which challenge the assumption that all of the walls of the Second Temple were built by Herod, the Roman puppet king of Judah, in his long project to reconstruct the Jerusalem Temple. The Western Wall was the perimeter and retaining wall of the Jewish Temple destroyed by Jerusalem’s Roman conquerors in 70 AD. Also called the Wailing Wall, it is now a shrine for pious Jews. Ignorant people think it is part of Solomon’s temple, while others, largely on the basis of the bible, say it was built by king Herod, the gospel baby killer. Even archaeologists and scholars largely agreed that Herod had built the Temple and its retaining walls in an enormous project begun about 22 BC and completed by his death in 4 BC. Every Jerusalem tour guide has Herod as the answer to the question, “Who built this massive wall?”

In 2011, Israeli archaeologists reported they had found ancient coins buried under the foundations of the Western Wall minted 20 years after King Herod’s death in 4 BC. Eli Shukron, an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who led the dig, with Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, explained:

Until today, accepted wisdom said that all the walls were built by Herod. When we found these coins which were dated about 20 years after Herod’s death, we understood that it couldn’t have been him who built this part of the wall.

No wall can be built without first laying down its foundations, so anything found beneath them must have been dropped or put there before the foundations were laid. In fact, these coins were not directly under the foundations of the wall, but in an underground ritual bath (mikveh) filled in to allow the foundation stones of the Western Wall to be laid across part of it. These coins were in the part not built on, but were beneath the infill, so were dropped or put there before the mikveh had been filled in so that the wall’s base could be constructed. The Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement:

This bit of archaeological information illustrates the fact that the construction of the Temple Mount walls and (the adjacent) Robinson’s Arch was an enormous project that lasted decades and was not completed during Herod’s lifetime.

According to Israel Antiquities Authority, of the several coins found, the latest of them were struck by the Roman Prefect of Judea, Valerius Gratus, in the year 17/18 AD. By that time, Tiberius was emperor, and Jerusalem had been ruled by Roman governors for a decade. As construction could not have started before then, the coins may back up Josephus’s story that the wall was finished by Agrippa II, Herod’s great grandson. Or the building of the wall might have been much later by Hadrian, who rebuilt Jerusalem and made it into a gentile city called Ælia Capitolina.

Two Coins of the Time of Prefect of Judea, Valerius Gratus

Josephus wrote that, when the work finally ended in 63 AD, 18,000 builders and masons were unemployed. To avoid trouble, Agrippa set them to paving the streets of Jerusalem. But it was only postponing the trouble, for soon the streets were paved, and again there was an army of tough men unemployed. According to Josephus, their agitation was important in bringing on the Jewish war against the Romans beginning in 66 AD, which led to the closure and partial demolition of the temple.

The mikveh and the coins were discovered metres from the Western Wall during controversial excavations of a 2,000 year old drainage channel which stretches from a site near the Western Wall and close to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam and known to Moslems as Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. It then runs under the Old City walls to end in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan. Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War, so Palestinians consider excavations there as being an illegitimate and provocative desecration of a Moslem holy place.

Written by mikemagee

26 November, 2011 at 2:20 am

Fundamentalist Right Wing Authoritarian Christian Fails Apologetics!

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Yank the Plank Tee Shirt

I happened to chance upon a website by an historian who turned out to be one of the varieties of fundamentalist right wing authoritarian Christians, one Nathan Albright. The page was a review of a book critical of Christianity, so this “historian” gave it a very bad notice. I have no idea what this book was otherwise about or whether it was any good, but what interested me was what this blogger’s review revealed about himself. So I put a comment on the page saying that his own views seemed shockingly confused for a Christian historian. He kept speaking of “biblical law”, so I asked him whether he meant the law of Moses, asking what relevance that had to a Christian, expecting him to say something about its relevance to the way Jesus must have thought, having been raised as a pious Jew, but not expecting a Christian to consider the Mosaic law valid since God incarnated on earth, as Christians are supposed to believe.

He also spoke of “biblical punishments”, a curious concept, I thought since the right to punish was God’s own right, according to Christ, and the punishments prescribed in the Old Testament were diametrically opposed to anything that the God of love could have required His earthly slaves to practice. I continued:

Is the bible God? Are you God to know just what punishments God might choose to mete out? Christ makes a firm point that it is not for us to judge, and for what it is worth 1 Peter says we ought not even to revile others. If you think the laws of the Jews still reproduced in the Old Testament are as important as the lessons delivered by the Christian incarnated God, uttered from his own lips, then you should be a Jew not a Christian. Your whole emphasis on law is wrong. Christ teaches personal morality. When that is right, there is no need for law. So while you refer to the book’s author as being “so incoherent and self-contradictory”, you should be aware that you are no different.

In his further criticisms, he seemed particularly occupied by the author’s opinions of the Gnostics, and a strong desire to distance Christianity from Gnosticism, so I turned to this, and persisted with some other phrases that concerned him:

While it might be true that Gnostics were not Christians, there is much in the New Testament that is gnostic showing that early Christians took some ideas from the Gnostics, and in the confusion of the earliest Christian centuries there was much hybridizing between local churches and sects. In any case, Gnosticism and Judaism both had Persian roots, and Christianity itself incorporates many concepts of the Persian religion, including that of the Saviour (Persian, Saoshyant). You also seem to dislike the author’s alleged “left agenda”. What constitutes a “left agenda”? It is of some interest in the world right now, with protests everywhere in the world at the way the social contract has been torn up so that most people can be left destitute while a few have so much it would take a lifetime to give away. For that indeed was what Christ, your own God, told you to do, and inasmuch as that is an egalitarian measure, it counts as being left wing, doesn’t it? No Christian can leave most of the population of the world destitute while enjoying the life of Riley themselves. Certainly “obedience” is a quality that the rich value in the poor, but did the Good God grant us free will so that we have to be uncritically obedient to “our betters”? Indeed can it seriously be argued that a Good God will punish us for not obeying Him, even though he apparently gave us that very right?

Amusingly, he reviled the writer for “choosing for herself which selective quotation she wants to make”. To which I commented:

Coming from a Christian, who pointedly cites several selected quotations, some from the Jewish scriptures, not the Christian ones, to suit his own interpretation, it looks like a spoof.

The inadvertant spoofiness of the writer revealed itself several times later, because he was evidently a perfect example of Christ’s parable about the mote and the beam. He was utterly blind to his own failings, failings that he saw in spades in others though he himself was the one who had them in spades.

The rest of the exchange went as follows. I concluded my initial comment thus:

Christ taught morality and morals are those practices we adopt to make living together agreeable. That is the meaning of Christian love, the attention the Good Samaritan paid to the accosted Jew—concern, kindness, care, attention, help, benevolence, protection—and the meaning of his being a Samaritan is that he was considered an enemy by Jews. I expect that can be written off, by a Christian so-called, as left wing too.

Your knowledge of God’s law and biblical history appears shockingly weak, let me provide you some information of where you woefully fall short.

You are spoofing us again, surely. You say you are a Christian and an historian, so your Christianity takes precedent over your history. That is the reason why there is no such thing as a “Christian scholar”. Christianity is antithetical to scholarship. What of history? You say my history falls woefully short, but yours is simply woeful.

The concept of a savior or deliverer is not borrowed from Mithratic Persian religion as you falsely claim, but was present in biblical religion from the earliest times (see Genesis 3:16-17).

What is the relevance of this citation to the precedence of Persian or Jewish religions?

Do you, allegedly a historian think Genesis was written in “the earliest times”? Genesis is most unlikely to be even the oldest book in the bible? As an historian you go on evidence, don’t you? What is your evidence for believing Genesis was written in the earliest times? No one could write at all in the earliest times, and the earliest evidence for recording data comes from Mesopotamia, not Palestine. Some of the myths of Sumer and Babylon are recorded in Genesis, myths like “the Flood”, but no serious historian considers them historical. They are old myths, and they have been copied from the early civilizations of Mesopotamia which preceded the Jews and Judaism by at least a millennium. The bible itself reports the beginning of Judaism, considering it as a return from exile, actually a deportation of people from Mesopotamia, during the Persian period! The law was then read out to them by Ezra in a foreign tongue. So the bible was compiled after this event. Judaism is therefore later than, and dependent on, the concepts of Persian religion.

You assume that the Jewish scriptures and Christian scriptures are different, following after the Marcionite heresy. This is a mistaken assumption.

It is not an assumption as anyone who can read can confirm for themselves. If they are the same, if not in fact, in meaning, then what was the point of Christ? Just a human sacrifice? Now you cite Paul (2 Timothy 4:16-17), but you mean to cite chapter 3. If Paul wrote the pastoral epistles, he plainly referred only to the scripture then extant, what Christians call the Old Testament, so his mention of “all scripture” seemed to allow for other scriptures that did not gain entry to the Jewish canon. As Paul was considerably influenced by the Gnostics that you despise so much, he might have even meant some of the Gnostic writings. He certainly could not have meant by it “what would be called both the Old Testament and the New Testament by most Christians”, at a time when the New Testament did not exist. If these epistles are post Pauline works, as seems more likely, they could have been written when some at least of the New Testament already existed, but then the Church was obviously plugging its New Testaments—the gospels in particular—in addition to those the Jews and the early Christians knew, mainly the Jewish scriptures written in Greek, the Septuagint, which are incidentally, the oldest Jewish scriptures known.

Therefore, a quotation from Mosaic law is fully applicable for Christians today (though to be interpreted through the lenses of Christianity to be sure).

Your own failing as a Christian is emphasized here in what you add as an incidental comment. If God appeared on earth to do more than to be sacrificed as an atonement, then Christ’s teaching must have been meant to supersede or at least correct the previous law. Parts of the gospels suggest he did intend that, and many Christians throughout the history of Christendom have believed it. Christ himself, however, as a devout Jew, denied it. Yet he introduced an entirely new emphasis on love and poverty that are not obvious in the Jewish scriptures. If you as a Christian are to follow the line you are preaching, your passing parenthesis is crucially important to Christianity, for the whole point of love, to Christ, God to Christians, is that the Mosaic law has to be read with loving intent. If there is no such reading available, then love should prevail. No modern Christian, even sincere ones, would consider much of Leviticus as being even remotely applicable today, and have no qualms about ignoring it. Yet some of Christ’s own teachings are restatements of some Levitical laws. Christians, for example, have to be perfect like their father in heaven, but most of them consider it too hard even though Christ himself said it as a paraphrase of Leviticus. That, they ought to aim to do, as Christians, but do not, and murdering people whether witches or homosexuals or adulterers, and so on, are not at all loving and ought to be rejected by Christians with barely a thought about it. It is easier to believe what Christ himself plainly taught than to go back uncritically to the Mosaic laws. If you are a Jew, then fine, stick by Moses, but to be a Christian you ought to stick by Christ. In neither case would you stick by Paul, as almost all Christians do, even to the exclusion of God Himself, in the shape of Christ.

The left-wing agenda I am referring to is a hostility to authority.

So Christ was not hostile to authority, even though he took a whip to people going about their lawful business in the temple court, tipping up their tables and scattering their animals and birds. Come on, historian. Take off the Christian blinkers. Christ was hanged as a man opposed to Roman authority. That very act of rampaging through the temple was a criminal act under Roman law. Indeed, it was the very act of defying authority, and that was a capital crime.

It would include the support of those revolutionaries against social order,

…except in the case when God is doing it, eh?

You are at liberty to peruse my blogs myself, though you will find much reference to biblical law that troubles you as an antinomian.

Perhaps I shall, but you are spoofing again, for you are, as I have noted just now, like all Christians, an antinomian when the nomos does not suit you.

You say I am very mistaken on some aspects of historical analysis yet you, as an historian, still use Justin Martyr’s absurd excuse (ca 150 AD) for Christian practice mimicking that of extant religions—it was all Satan’s doing. I take it that Satan is that terribly powerful wicked God that Christians believe is responsible for evil in the world. A bit like Ahriman, the evil Persian God. In fact, just like Ahriman! Yet Christians abhor the Persian religion as being dualist, unlike “monotheistic” Christianity. And what about the Jewish scriptures, which you tell us teaches the same as Christ did? There in Isaiah, the Good God admits he is responsible for evil. The truth is that both religions stem from the Persian one, but in the post Persian age of growing monotheism tried unsuccessfully to eliminate Satan. He is too valuable an excuse for criminality for Christians to let go of.

Genesis is a far older text than anything in the Persian or Gnostic religious traditions.

I have disputed this, so offer me some proof.

I suggest you take some remedial biblical history to improve your own weak understanding.

Spoof, hilarious! Where do you get it all? You are the historian, and supposedly a Christian, but you need more than remedial work. Your root and branch comprehension is that of a bible thumping fundamentalist. One of the first things historians must do is question their sources. You cannot do it. The bible is your God, which is why you keep referring to biblical law.

Like most Gnostics, your virulent hatred of Judaism and biblical law leads you astray because it causes you to reject true apostolic Christianity.

What persuades you that I am a Gnostic and hate Judaism? Your credentials as a historian are in tatters. You haven’t a clue what impartial means. You have your own conclusions ready before you begin. But then, that is typically Christian.

As a part-Levite and part-Jew who was circumcised on the eighth day and who keeps the biblical sabbath laws, food laws, and other laws as part of my Christian beliefs, I have no qualms with being considered a one-house Messianic Jew, though I myself was raised in a Christian background.

Ah, so you are a Jew, and not a Christian at all.

You must consider Christ a Jew rather than a Christian (for the two great commandments of personal morality you claim belief in, “Honor God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your spirit” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, spring directly from the Mosaic law, specifically Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Indeed, but what Jesus did that was novel and crucial was to link the two inseparably. He was asked for the greatest commandment and gave these two! It identifies every human being as meriting the love of God Himself. Christ was a man but was God too. The whole point of Christianity is that people must be treated as if they were God, for inasmuch as Christ is God, God could be any man and every man. Any Christian knows this, especially any Christian who has read his New Testament as far as Matthew 25:31-46. Apparently few have, or have not understood what they read, in two millennia.

Matthew, Acts, and the letters of the New Testament (especially Romans, Hebrews, James, and Revelation) are full of quotations and obvious references to Old Testament law being valid and applicable to Christians.

You are a historian but seem not to know, as I have already said, that there were no Christian scriptures until these people had written them, so all they could cite as scripture were the Jewish scriptures. Moreover, all the first Christians, not just Christ were Jews, so what else would they use other than the Jewish holy books. If Christianity was merely a form of Judaism, then why did the two religions ever split? Why did Jews reject Christ as the messiah, and still do? Christianity began as a Jewish heresy, and those Jews who tried to do as you seem to want to do, keep Jewish while being Christian, were rejected by the gentile Churches as Judaizers. The real Christians were the Ebionites. Perhaps you are trying to be one of these, but they rightly rejected Paul as a scoundrel out for himself.

Paul himself used an obscure Mosaic law about not muzzling oxen while they tread the field twice to justify Christians paying tithes and offerings to support the New Testament ministry.

Thank you. Paul was the first TV evangelist!

When you meet your maker in judgment, you can at least say you were warned.

Warned by a tribe of crooks and perverts who have consistently in the history of Christendom, all bar a few exceptions who did try, practiced the opposite of Christian teaching. Come on! You claim to be a historian. Try reading a little of the vile history of Christianity instead of biblical mythology.

The fundamentalist Christian historian did reply again to the comments I made in the preceding exchange, but ended with a warning that I was treading on his toes, so I began my replies to him on that warning.

In view of your curiously defensive attitude, I had better start at the end of your last reply to me, to give you a chance to delete my further comments before you read them.

I should note that my blog (like the Bible) has moral rules that include no insulting of Christianity or blasphemy. You are therefore in violation of my laws on my realm. Take heed to yourself. If you wish to continue conversing on this blog you will obey my rules. Is that simple enough for you to understand?

It seems to me that obeying your rules means agreeing with your own particular delusions. Anything critical immediately offends your delicate sensitivities. Well, as you say, this is your blog, and you did not even have to publish my initial comments, which you plainly found distasteful, from the tenor of your replies. I have understood throughout that you are the master here, and can delete whatever you do not like. It may be fine for your ego, but it is an admission that you cannot argue your corner. As a Christian apologist, you admit failure. Now is the chance for you to delete the rest of may reply, but, never fear, I shall not waste it.

The historian posted this reply up to this point then terminated the correspondence without posting the rest by adding the following note right here:

Editor: No, forbidding others to speak on a forum or editing/deleting their posts is not a sign that one cannot argue, only that one does not wish to cast pearls before swine, encourage internet trolls (such as you are), or to engage in pointless debate with fools. Nonetheless, since you accurately understood that you were offensive both in the tone and in the content of your messages, why did you not show some wisdom and moderate that tone if you wished to have a genuine discussion? I suppose you’ll have to answer that question for yourself.

Mr Albright persist in his psychological projection to the very end, conscious of offensiveness in my posts, but apparently as polite as saint himself! If an internet troll means arguing with nonsense, then I have no choice but to accept the insult, while wishing there were a lot more of us. Albright added to his editorial the following short “reply”.

Isn’t this much better? Perhaps you should stick to #OWS blogs where people like your nonsense.

So it is plain enough what his politics are. For anyone interested in all this, the points of my reply that he chose to omit continued as follows.

You say I “have no sense of balance” because I do not narrate the good things of Christianity besides the bad. Well I have noted several times that your own attitude comes over as a spoof, because you are utterly blind to your own biases. Here is another instance. If I must balance my selecting the bad aspects of Christianity with the good ones, then why don’t you, as a scholar, have the same duty to balance your rosy tinted presentation of Christianity with the blood and burnt flesh of the real history of it. It would be a violation of your laws, master. But your laws are a reflexion of Christianity as a whole, unbalanced and tendentious. No doubt you see your own role and duty to be to apologize for your beliefs. Well, I see mine as rectifying your unbalanced view. If that makes me “unfit to be a scholar or a gentleman”, then that is your view, but I submit that I am thereby the better Christian, because Christ was here to rectify what He as God perceived had gone wrong in His plan. You are the Caiaphas or the Pontius Pilate. Christ was a reformer, if not indeed a revolutionary, but you cannot abide any contradiction.

You refer to Christians scholars naming Harrison, Kitchen and Albright. The Harrison I know of is not the one you mention, but Kitchen and Albright were so biased and indeed bent that whenever they opine about anything impinging on Christianity or Judaism, they are hardly worth reading. Albright did a lot of damage with his archaeological tinkering over many decades, not least a faulty pottery sequence that misdates everything to suit the mythical chronology of the bible. Kitchen should stick to Egyptology.

There is internal textual evidence that Genesis springs from very old times, including its reference to a river that dried up about 3500 BC and its use of “and these are the generations” to divide its contents into cuneiform tablets kept generation after generation.

Genesis is a collection of stories, from Mesopotamia, as I have already said. Mesopotamia is where writing was developed and in its advanced form of lettering it became cuneiform. You are therefore accepting that much of this book’s content is Sumerian, Akkadian or Babylonian, the culture being essentially unchanging over tens of centuries.

“The evidence for Genesis’ considerable antiquity” you think is conclusive is not even valid. On your reasoning, the Last days of Pompeii must have been written in the first century AD, because it records an event of that time, but we all know it was written in the last century of the second millennium, almost 2000 years later. No historian will simply accept the internal contents of any source as being concrete evidence of its date. All history is falsely dated on that criterion. So, if Genesis is genuinely ancient, as you claim, it is not Jewish, and if it is not genuinely ancient, it could be Jewish, but simply records copies of some ancient tales from elsewhere. In the main we know what they are because the same tales have been found, dated variously because they were narrated repeatedly over many centuries as religious myths, in the valleys of the two rivers where they were set down originally.

Abraham and his family were descended from Mesopotamian society.

Abraham and his family was a story, an allegory in all likelihood of the event called by Jews the “return from exile”. The Nuzi tablets record laws pertaining to the ANE over millennia, so useless for dating any particular event. The Hittite treaties indeed show “the Bible’s covenant formula”, but again you use a treaty format that remained in use for over a thousand years in the ANE to date a particular time in that interval that suits you. Note too, that if the covenant was a treaty format, it was a covenant between two powers on earth, the Jews and the Persians, at the time of Ezra (a Persian) not the imaginary Moses. Does God lack originality that he has to use a treaty formula for his holy covenant?

Again, I am a scholar, and you’re just a troll.

Projecting again, Spoofer!

You are following the wrong scholars when you say that Judaism began after the exile. After all, the return from the exile merely restored the temple that had existed some time before.

Evidence, please? There is none! The so called Second Temple is the first Jewish one, even if a temple preceded it. The Deuteronomic history was written as a foundation history of the Jewish Temple State centered on Jerusalem, called Yehud. Most of it is fiction, the rest is loosely based on Assyrian king lists in the hands of the Persians. Its purpose is plainly to intimidate the Jews. Be obedient and they will multiply and prosper, fail to be obedient and they will be destroyed, and will be lucky if a righteous remnant remains living. That theme is the purpose of the history. There is no evidence for a state of Judah until just before Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians, and incorporated into the empire. Judah remained as a rump puppet state, lasting independently only for a few decades. It was repopulated by colonists from Persia, who came with instructions to start a new religion.

You say I and people like me try to minimize the bible, and you say that because you have coined it, being biblical maximalists. The ones like me whom you call minimalists are actually doing what you are supposed to do wearing your historian’s hat. Find the truth, based on evidence and not merely on the myths in a tendentious ancient religious story book.

Since the Bible extends well into the second and third millennium BC, it is far before the Persian religion.

You have shown that some of the stories in the Genesis go back to ancient Mesopotamia, and I concur with that, but tell me how that is evidence that the bible was written then, any more than Bulwer Lytton was a contemporary of Pliny the Elder.

[The Persian religion] had its Satanic-inspired reformation in the seventh and sixth century BC.

I see you are now bragging that you are a personal friend of Satan, otherwise how would you know that little gem, Mr Historian?

If you wish to be a scholar, seek out scholarship.

Tee hee! Spoofer!

You falsely claim that Paul was influenced by the Gnostics. Far from it. His words were twisted by the gnostics (yourself included) to be hostile to the law (see 2—Peter 3:15-16).

Why do you, a so-called historian, keep citing valueless anonymous works as evidence? Even when you get the citation right, they rarely do what you claim. Where in this citation is the word “Gnostic”? As a fundamentalist, you will imagine that this is Peter the Rock speaking, but no scholar believes it is. You say Paul was a trained Pharisee on his own say so. That is not wise for a historian, especially a Jewish or semi-Jewish one, as modern Pharisees (scholarly rabbis) with few exceptions cannot see any such training in Paul, and his defection into anti-Semitism and self aggrandisement does not say a lot for Pharisees, if this claim is true. God, incidentally, in his earthly incarnation as Christ, seemed to disdain, if not detest, the Pharisees, so it is hard to understand why Christ’s supposed followers should defect into the arms of a supposed Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus. Tarsus was, of course, a cosmopolitan merchant city and a center of pagan religions, like that of Attis, the dying and rising god.

You cite Acts in defence of Paul’s acceptance of the law while being a Christian, yet the instance you cite is one that belies your claim. The Jews from Asia, a place where Paul had been active, so they knew his reputation directly, rioted against him because he had been violating the law. He had to agree to a Nazarite vow to try to appease them, but it didn’t. Elswhere he admits it or is ambiguous, and becomes increasingly anti-Semitic, the first self-hating Jew maybe?

You additionally claim that he believed in numerous nonbiblical scriptures.

No, I made no such explicit claim. Read what I said again. I am referring to scriptures which did not enter the Jewish canon, like the Enoch books, which you note yourself were Gnostic.

Jude himself quoted Gnostic works against the gnostics.

Quite so, and he quoted from Enoch favorably as scripture against those of whom he disapproved.

Now you say the Hebrew scriptures were a fixed canon after “about 440-420 AD”. You mean BC, but you are wrong even so. The Rabbis meeting at Jamnia in the first century AD fixed the canon. Before then, the Torah was definite, of course, the Prophets mostly, and the Writings quite flexibly.

Again, I’m sure your lack of belief in predictive prophecy lead you to reject historians like Joesephus.

I must admit I never knew Josephus was a prophet.

And falsely claim that Daniel was written in the second century BC because it would have been otherwise impossible for your puny and corrupted mind to understand how the various Ptolemeic and Seleucid kings could be written of ahead of time.

You are very good on “puny and corrupted minds”, aren’t you, Nathan? Paragraphs follow in which you preach to someone in your imagination, so mean nothing to me.

Evil exists as a corruption of good. It is not dualist because evil does not have an independent existence except upon a corruption of the original order.

That is what the Persian religion says.

Satan is not the equal of God.

And yet God chooses to let him off the leash. From where most of us stand, unaffected by your ability to persuade yourself of anything at all, Satan looks to be God’s equal. And, as I said, he is a great convenience for Christians who want to plead their failings are not their fault. In any event, he is a supernatural being, like the angels, demons, saints, etc, of which there are millions. So much for the boast of monotheism.

God is responsible for evil, but is not evil Himself.

Is He then perfectly good? Can something evil come out of something supposedly perfectly good?

The Persian religion falsely has an Ahura Mazda in a conflict with an equal evil god, an idea that is blasphemous in biblical religion, where Satan is a rebellious servant whose fate and end are already decided and merely await consummation. Again, your lack of understanding leads you astray.

Curious, I thought I introduced the idea of Persian dualism to this discussion. And, of course, in the interest of balance, the biblical contention that the wicked Satan is a slave under instruction from the Good God is blasphemous in the Persian religion.

I believe that the Bible is the very inspired Word of God, and the only credible source for learning about Him. Clearly you do not. The fact that you speak foolishly about what you do not understand pardons my speaking (as Paul did) as a fool to those who are foolish. But I will not cast my pearls before swine.

According to the Rabbis, even the pearls of God are tarnished in an imperfect world, something you cannot get, and when you speak of my not understanding, be frank, you mean not accepting your entirely subjective and therefore unverifiable interpretations. The bible, even if it had been sent directly from heaven by angelic messenger, would be imperfect once it was opened on this earth. In fact, the inspiration of God is supposed to be via the Holy Ghost acting upon men, and men themselves are imperfect beings, so the Word is not going to be as so remarkably accurate as you think by the time they have pondered and written, then translated. The evidence offered by people not prone to subjectivity, but skilled in history and science, is that biblical history is very flawed indeed. You will stick by your subjective views but history and science have to aim for objectivity to be valuable. That might mean opposing absolutely some false idea. That is what I try to do, and you, if you are a historian, ought to.

Mr Albright had run out of ideas, so refused to reply to the troll!

Water to Wine Miracle: A Matter of Plumbing

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Philip Jenkins writes (The Jesus Wars):

The Church organized public exhibitions to show how the Pagan priests had contrived some of the miraculous tricks by which they overawed the simple.

Water to Wine Miracle: A Matter of Plumbing

This sentence should give pause to the faithful but gullible readers of the bible, for some of the Old Testament miracles might have been priestly magic on just the lines the Christians here were debunking. The ancient Greeks arranged for water to turn to wine on a grand scale by clever plumbing. They could do “Open Sesame” types of miracles by having immense stone doors that would open at a touch. The ancient Persians had batteries of iron and copper rods dipped into wine or citrus juices, with which they must have been able to make sparks, and might have been able to use to light barrels of oil instantly. Perhaps the Greeks used the same trick for instant illumination at Eleusis.

So the rumblings and pyrotechnics on Mount Zion described in the bible could have been a show put on for the faithful believers, especially as we read they could only be observed by the people from a distance, so they had no idea what was really going on.

Tel Shikmona (Haifa) Reveals a Cross Section of Palestinian History

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Archaeologists digging at Tel Shikmona, on the southern edge of Israel’s city of Haifa, starting only at the start of 2011, have uncovered signs of settlement from the late Bronze Age (sixteenth century BC) to the Moslem occupation of the seventh century AD, including a well preserved “four room” house from the time of the Kingdom of Israel (900-700 BC), a Persian city (about 400 BC) and a Byzantine town (about 500 AD). The site was excavated about 40 years ago by the late Yosef Algavish but neglected and piles of rubbish, and construction waste were piled over the site for the decades, and vehicles have ploughed over it. Dr Shay Bar and Dr Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, explained:

We had seen the structure in the old photographs, and were sorry that such a rarely preserved finding had disappeared due to neglect. We were not even sure that we would be able to find it again. It was practically a miracle that we managed to locate and uncover it and that it is still so well preserved.

The photographs of the 1970s excavations he speaks of show a “four room” house dating around 700-800 BC. It is a house typical of Canaanite houses of the time, but which biblicists all too often assign exclusively to Israel, taken to be the “Ancient Israel” of the bible. The state of Israel in that period was itself typically Canaanite with an essentially Phœnician culture and language, Hebrew being a Canaanite dialect. Evidence is a personal seal found in the same excavation, showing an inscription in Hebrew or Phœnician. The archaeologists hope to determine whether the inscription is Phoenician or Hebrew, a bit like wanting to know whether a recording of a New Yorker’s accent is Bronx or East Side.

Hundreds of murex mollusc shells were also found at the site, the source of the purple dye called “Tyrean Purple”. Sherds of purple colored ceramic from pitchers evidently used to store the dye extracted from the snails. Imported luxuries from Cyprus and the coast of Lebanon arrived in fine, delicate vessels of high quality ceramic, evidence of extensive trade with neighbors in the region and even overseas. It was the Canaanites of the coastal towns of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Arad who were the seamen, not the Israelites, but for a short period before it was annexed by Assyria, Israel was prosperous, perhaps because it controlled trade between the interior and Arabia and the coastal cities.

The Phœnicians (a Greek name for them) were noted traders and merchants and accomplished sailors who traded throughout the Mediterranean and provided the Mediterranean fleet for the Persian shahs. Elsewhere on the site evidence of the Persian settlement of the area was found including a Persian building (fourth century BC) with an oven, clay loom weights and storage pitchers. It was only with the arrival of the Persian colonists towards the end of the fifth century that the Jewish temple state based on Jerusalem began. The colonists identified themselves with, the now defunct but once prosperous, state of Samaria (Israel) to give themselves a mythical history, as the Askwhy website explains.

Above the Persian layer on the eastern side of the tell were Byzantine terraces (fourth-seventh centuries AD) bearing houses with mosaic floors and storage rooms. Dozens of ceramic vessels there were found intact, and many coins, ornaments, pendants, weapons and glass vessels also, suggesting a wealthy people. It seems the area was wealthy from Canaanite times until the Moslem conquest. When Pompey arrived in Palestine in the first century BC, it was still a prosperous, fortified city, but after the Bronze Age and before the ninth century BC it was sparsely settled. It was a long period of drought.

Written by mikemagee

23 July, 2011 at 8:58 pm